By Majid Sheikh
Lahore has always been fertile ground for persons with a mind of their own. In the case of Faiz, we had the example of Iqbal. Both belonged to Sialkot and both came to Lahore to realise their potential.
Not that Lahore provided them with the genes that made them famous, but that the environment molded them to a considerable extent to make them what they finally became. We see Faiz coming to Lahore to stay at their ancestral house at Ichhra on Ferozepur Road. By the time he came his father, a brilliant man in his own right, had died. His step-sisters, all Persian speaking, lived there and his mother, an equally amazing woman, was making sure all the children grew up with the best education and married in the best possible manner.
Here we have a ‘multi-lingual’ house, where Persian, Punjabi, Urdu, English and a spattering of Arabic was spoken. Faiz’s mother, whom he called ‘Bebe Ji’ was a strong woman who made sure her sons grew up with the very best education and training. He was his mother’s spoilt child and lived in relative luxury. With his sisters he spoke in chaste Persian, with his mother Punjabi, with friends he used Punjabi, Urdu and English. His days at Ichhra thus passed as he went through Government College, Lahore, and then Oriental College. The Second World War had started and Faiz joined up against the fascist ‘enemy’, not that he considered anyone an enemy. But he was a multi-lingual person and the British made full use of his talent. It was the correct thing to do then.
The family then moved to Bagh Munshi Ladha, just opposite Ravi Road. Here in a relatively modest house he started his journalistic career after the war, and from here it was easy for him to frequent the house of Ustad Daman, a man he revered and respected. Whenever the Ustad entered the room he would stand up, and would not sit down till Daman was seated and comfortable. In that respect we see Faiz in a traditional ‘ustad-shagird’ mode.
Faiz made full use of his stay at Bagh Munshi Ladha and in this period he got to understand the Sufi way of life in its intensity. His friendship with Baba Malang Sahib was a very special relationship. It was during this period that Faiz was jailed in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, and in true Lahori style the neighbours took excellent care of the family. Faiz was never to forget the immense hospitality of his neighbours, and would later in life drop in to meet them. He was connected to the old city in a very strong way.
From Bagh Munshi Ladha the Faiz family moved in 1961 to 41 Empress Road just opposite the Radio Pakistan building. It was a comfortable flat, and here the family moved on as Faiz the poet began to bloom and attain respect all over the world. At this flat came the outstanding men and women of that age, and his hospitality was well-known. In those days Radio Pakistan was the centre of Lahore’s cultural activities, and Faiz was perfectly positioned to play a lead role.
The final house shifting of Faiz was to his own house at 102 H Block, Model Town, Lahore. In a way the moves reflect the evolving poet and intellectual. Here he was to settle down and his family branch off. This was home to Faiz for the rest of his life, even though his real home, the one in his heart and soul, probably always remained his village Kala Kader, just eight miles from Narowal in Sialkot District.
The house at Model Town soon became the place where every intellectual of Lahore wished and wanted to visit, to spend precious moments with the poet. It was in this house that he breathed his last, just after returning from his village for one last visit. It was almost as if he knew the end had come.
A week before he passed away, Faiz went to his village. There he sat in front of the small, but beautiful, mosque built by his father and on whose front is a marble plaque with a ‘Naat’ in Persian written by Faiz when he was in exile in Beirut because Gen Zia’s policies would not let him return home. This was, he told friends, the most painful period in his life. Gen Zia had a bizarre way of extracting revenge against those he disliked or did not understand. Faiz was to dismiss this with the remark: “Bechara”.
On his return he passed away on 20 November 1984. I remember his funeral, for he was buried at the G Block graveyard of Model Town. As we stood waiting for his body to be lowered in the grave, a shout came from the graveyard gate. Ustad Daman had arrived in a rickshaw. He could barely walk. The great Punjabi poet and sage was in tears. “How can you bury Faiz without me throwing a handful of the soil he so loved on his tender body”. Everyone was moved. The great ustad then said: “Ja, aish kar. Azad ho gaya ain” (Go, enjoy yourself, for you are now free). He moved aside and returned to his rickshaw. Faiz was buried, but the man lived on… and probably always will, for he is now truly free for all of us to learn more about this remarkable man.